Speaking truth, beautifully, to shattered young people – the new york times

Kwame Alexander brings his signature verse to REBOUND (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 414 pp., $16.99; ages 10 to 12) It’s the summer of 1988 and 12-year-old Charlie Bell struggles to find his footing after his father’s death. (“Rebound” is the prequel to Alexander’s Newbery Medal-winning “The Crossover.”) When “soaring above / the sorrow and grief / seemed impossible,” Charlie retreats from his mother and friends into the world of comic books. As his relationship with his mother grows strained, and Charlie is caught stealing from a neighbor, he is shipped off to his grandparents for the summer. There, he spends his days doing chores for his “hustle and grind, peace of mind” Granddad, and tagging along while Granddad volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club.

There, his basketball-loving cousin, Roxie, gets him back into the game. As Charlie allows himself to enjoy the things he once shared with his father, he begins to pick up the pieces of his shattered universe.

“Rebound” grapples with grief and loss, but never buckles under the weight of it. Alexander’s verse, although slightly more subdued than in “The Crossover,” maintains energy and momentum, and Charlie’s sadness is skillfully counterbalanced by occasional pages of graphic novel panels (illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile), as well as by fast-paced basketball sequences and pop culture references. Readers familiar with “The Crossover” will find themselves smiling as details of Charlie’s early life emerge that give us glimpses of the man and father he will later become; those who haven’t read it will find it a strong and satisfying stand-alone book about grief, love and the power of family. Photo

THE POET X (HarperTeen, 357 pp., $17.99; ages 13 and up), the debut verse novel by the poet Elizabeth Acevedo, ventures farther into the topsy-turvy world of adolescence. It’s almost as if it happens overnight: You wake up one morning and everything seems different — your body, your parents, your neighborhood, your biology lab partner. The things that were once a source of comfort and ease have become jagged with questions, doubt and new possibilities. Faced with all that, 15-year-old Xiomara (“see oh MAH ra”) is lost. Although she still inhabits the same body, the same pious Dominican family and the same Harlem neighborhood, nothing is the same. Her body now “takes up more room” than her voice and has become a target for relentless catcalls from boys and insults from girls. Her once adored mother has become a constant source of rules and disapproval, and the church that was once a place of joy now feels like a house that is “no longer one I want to rent.” Xiomara struggles to find a voice in this strange new world and resorts to using her fists instead of words. But, in the safety of her notebook, Xiomara finds refuge in poetry.

In the 95 poems in VOICES IN THE AIR: Poems for Listeners (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 208 pp., $17.99; ages 13 and up), Naomi Shihab Nye reminds our “obsessively tuned in” culture of the magic, power and necessity of “quiet inspiration.” She reminds us that the more “connected” we’ve become, the more disconnected we actually are: “With so much vying for our attention,” she asks, “how do we listen better?”

Inspired and guided by the voices that surround her (voices from the past, the present and even the peonies), Nye’s free verse tells of the wisdom, solace and beauty she has found and urges readers to join her, to listen with her, to create space to make sense of their experiences in an often difficult world.

While Nye’s message is clear, it is never heavy-handed. The poems are loosely connected but just as powerful individually. Whether dealing with the mundane (a coffee cup) or the devastating (a girl shot by a stray bullet), Nye displays a palpable, unwavering empathy and hope for a better world. Although it’s intended for teenagers, “Voices in the Air” speaks to adults, too — any, that is, who are willing to slow down and listen.